Thursday, August 08, 2013

Mediocrity Creeps Back: A Review of iPhoto '11

iPhoto, You've Changed...

I led the original team that built iPhoto 1.0 (I have the custom-printed T-shirt and scars to prove it). I still use iPhoto and I still love it, 12 years later.  But I also have some criticisms.  For the record, I was responsible for iPhoto 1.0 through (I think) iPhoto 4.0, but I have not worked at Apple since the end of 2003.

I just now started using iPhoto '11 because I have resisted updating to Lion and Mountain Lion (I still like Snow Leopard better). But I bought a new laptop, so I'm using all the new stuff, like it or not. I mention this only because my perspective on iPhoto '11 is fresh, having just started using it.

Overall, my impression of iPhoto '11 is that it has some interesting new features that I won't use, and some old ones that I wish would go away (Face Recognition), but worse, the user interface has gradually degraded. It is pretty, and it is "easy to use", but it does not strike the right balance between power and ease of use.  It just isn't as good as previous versions, for the same level of functionality.

The mantra for iPhoto 1.0 was essentially that the user interface should disappear — photos are something you look at, so you want a very visual interface, with more photo, less UI.  This is the balance that is largely missing in iPhoto '11.  There is much more UI, and a lot less Photo.

The biggest problem is that the tools in iPhoto '11 are inside the area used for the photo itself, so if you click on Info or Edit, the photo gets [dramatically] smaller to make room for the tools.  This is maybe good for "ease of use", but bad for "usability".  The buttons in the Edit panel are way wider than they need to be, because the Info/Edit space is fixed size — but what a waste of space for labeled buttons that say things like "Crop" and "Adjust".

In the screen shots here, you can see the photo before and after the Info button is clicked, and how much the photo is reduced in size.



The whole point of iPhoto is the photos -- they should be as large as possible.  Calculating the area in pixels, I see that the photo occupies only 42.9% of the pixels within the window.  Less than half of the area of the screen is devoted to the photo!  It's much worse when a photo is in Portrait orientation — only 30% of the available pixels are used for the photograph!



A couple of versions back, the Adjust user interface was a floating panel, and the other features (like Crop and Enhance) were along the bottom bar, using far less screen real estate. The functionality of this new vertical strip of space is the same, but its use of space is dramatically worse. This is a step in the wrong direction. I know how decisions like this are made: in the name of "consistency".  Put all the features in the same piece of real estate, because they are similar.  But this is a programmer's point of view, not necessarily a user's point of view, and if it has consequences like reducing the amount of space to display the photo (and also changing the view when you Edit, so it changes size up and down as you're viewing) then it is a bad decision.  To quote the late Steve Jobs, "consistency is overrated."

Next topic: Manage Keywords:



Where did these keywords come from? I certainly didn't create them, and I don't want to look through them, much less use them.  What the heck is this?!  It's surprising, confusing, and useless. The keywords bear a vague resemblance to some of my photos, including words such as "barrel" and "cloud", leading me to believe that there is some kind of feature recognition going on — like face recognition but for barrels and clouds — that suggests these keywords for me to use.

Really?!

And if the features are all now in the window as Edit and Create and Add To (which I don't like, obviously) why are Keywords in their own floating panel?  Why not put Adjust back in a floating panel, which is better than where it is now, since I can see my photo better?  There isn't much cohesive thought going into these features, or their arrangement.  I suspect Design By Committee.

I could find fault with many more features, as everything I look at has gotten slightly more cluttered, less good, or otherwise muddled, but I will stop there on the laundy list, and consider the more philosophical underpinnings of these choices...

Tradeoffs

Software design is about making tradeoffs: space vs. accessibility, speed vs. fidelity, ease of use vs. power. We thought a lot about these issues 10-12 years ago, and struck a good balance where you mostly saw your photos, and didn't have a bunch of useless features.  I think that balance has gradually eroded since then, each release being slightly less good than the one that came before it. It is amusing, and saddening, to see some of the tradeoffs that we made so long ago being reversed — with the outcome that was predicted those long years ago:

Maybe it's slightly easier to find the Adjust controls (which you only need to do once ever), and it's more consistent now (which doesn't matter that much), but the photo is now a lot smaller when you're editing it — and that's not worth it!  Bad tradeoff.

Sort Photos...

One of the few anecdotes I tell about Steve Jobs is from iPhoto 1.0, when we were just about to ship it. And I mean just about to ship it!  It was December, and we were in Golden Master Candidate 3 or something close to that.  No more changes, other than very high-priority bug fixes, and those only cautiously.  We had a Sort Photos submenu, just exactly as it appears in iPhoto '11



Steve was going through the menus one final time before we shipped it, and he stopped on this submenu.  The conversation went something like this:

Steve: "What is this menu for?"
Glenn: "So you can sort your photos by different things."
Steve [looking through them]: "They are sorted by Date by default, right?"
Glenn: "Yes."
Steve: "Get rid of that menu item" [Sort By Date]
Glenn: "Okay."
Steve: "Why would you want to Sort By Caption?"
Glenn: "I can't think of any good reason to sort by caption"
Steve: "Get rid of it."
Glenn: "Okay."
Steve: "Why would you want to sort by any of these other things?"
Glenn: [some lame possibilities provided]
Steve: "Get rid of the whole menu."
Glenn: "I can do that easily, as you know, in Interface Builder — but the documentation, particularly the localized documentation, will need to be changed, too, and we don't have enough time for that."
Steve: [after a few moments thought]: "Fuck the French and German documentation."

So of course we made the change, and of course Cheryl Thomas' team managed to update the French and German documentation on time anyway, by working late hours, and we shipped it without the Sort Photos submenu.  I realized that Steve was right, that you really didn't need to sort your photos by this and that, when there were already so many other ways to organize and view your photos, and probably few people would ever use the Sort Photos menu, and all it did was clutter up the application.

So it seems odd to me that the Sort Photos menu is now back, and Steve is gone. It makes me sad, considering both of those points.  Will mediocrity start to take over, now that he is gone? It is as though Sort Photos won out, in the end.

17 comments:

小罗 said...

I like the ability to sort (in a minimal sense). The sort by default it is sorted "oldest to newest" and I almost always want photos sorted "newest to oldest" (I wouldn't call it "ascending" and "descending" as that's a bit confusing for my mom.), but I don't want to scroll through years of photos to find the one I just took.

It also helps with the finder menu http://robrohan.com/2013/06/05/ordering-iphoto-in-reverse-chronological-order/

I like the rest of the posts insights; interesting.

Anonymous said...

Good story. One semi-reasonable reason to sort by something other than date is for getting rid of duplicate photos. In reality I just use iPhoto Library Manager for that, which has tools for dealing with duplicates explicitly.

A general decline has become evident in nearly all of Apple's apps since the 10.6 timeframe. New versions get arbitrary features removed, often for seemingly aesthetic or "conformance" reasons (generally removing features people actually *use*); more gimmicky UI; poor UI discoverability, reliability and perceived quality, and reduced keyboard accessibility.

The first I can think of is Ticket Viewer, which replaced the MIT Kerberos app in 10.6; it's now got such wonderful things as a Ticket menu full of items that don't validate and a "Diagnostic Information" window displaying monospaced contents in a proportionally spaced, *editable* text view. Between the Finder (e.g., list view's decline from 10.6 to 10.8), Dictionary (the up arrow key scrolls down? seriously?), Calendar (no way to save changes to an event and make the popover disappear from the keyboard), AirPort Utility 7 and the new Wireless Diagnostics (where to start?), Apple Configurator, iTunes 11, Preview (just you *try* to zoom all the pages of a PDF at a time), Console, Safari's new Web Inspector and downloads popover, the App Store app, Mission Control, Xcode 4 and the loss of Interface Builder, and more I'm probably forgetting, it's really hard to be optimistic about the future. There's more devastation coming in Mavericks, including Activity Monitor, more in Calendar, Messages and Safari.

The iWork apps (and their derivatives such as iBooks Author) are one of the last remaining areas of relative quality. I'm scared to see what will happen in their forthcoming revisions.

Then again, what else am I going to use?

Joel said...

Wasn't the latest version of iPhoto released prior to Steve passing away? Steve died October 2011 and iLife 11 was released October 2010.

Or are you suggesting the "Sort Photos" submenu was re-introduced in a more recent point update?

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Peggy Banks said...

I'm an idiot user looking for experts who know what they're doing and it sounds like I may have found YOU. I have a ton of pictures from my mother and even my own than I'm scanning and trying to organize Of course, there are not 'file names or dates' to put them in any kind of order and as I work this project I'm finding duplicates....LOTS of them. Do you know how an idiot user like me starts to make sense of it all? Is there a software program that attempts to find duplicates by images, or is that a Star Trek idea?? I hope to pass on my files to family so the other thing I want to do is 'rename' photos. I suppose that changes the file name. That leaves iPhoto with the option of sorting by scan date??? Is there any help for this user? By the way, I'm an organization freak and love options to sort :)

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5113 far oak circle
sarasota, fl. 34238 thankyou

george ferreira said...

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george ferreira 941-9248439
5113 far oak circle
sarasota, fl. 34238 thankyou

george ferreira said...

i would love the glenn reid collection to bid on. the yellow ha/com5181 could you please send me a catalog of all your wonderful articles and motor cars and engines. thankyou god bless america''

george ferreira 941-9248439
5113 far oak circle
sarasota, fl. 34238 thankyou

george ferreira said...

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george ferreira 941-9248439
5113 far oak circle
sarasota, fl. 34238 thankyou

george ferreira said...

i would love the glenn reid collection to bid on. the yellow ha/com5181 could you please send me a catalog of all your wonderful articles and motor cars and engines. thankyou god bless america''

george ferreira 941-9248439
5113 far oak circle
sarasota, fl. 34238 thankyou

george ferreira said...

i would love the glenn reid collection to bid on. the yellow ha/com5181 could you please send me a catalog of all your wonderful articles and motor cars and engines. thankyou god bless america''

george ferreira 941-9248439
5113 far oak circle
sarasota, fl. 34238 thankyou

george ferreira said...

i would love the glenn reid collection to bid on. the yellow ha/com5181 could you please send me a catalog of all your wonderful articles and motor cars and engines. thankyou god bless america''

george ferreira 941-9248439
5113 far oak circle
sarasota, fl. 34238 thankyou

george ferreira said...

i would love the glenn reid collection to bid on. the yellow ha/com5181 could you please send me a catalog of all your wonderful articles and motor cars and engines. thankyou god bless america''

george ferreira 941-9248439
5113 far oak circle
sarasota, fl. 34238 thankyou

george ferreira said...

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george ferreira 941-9248439
5113 far oak circle
sarasota, fl. 34238 thankyou

george ferreira said...

i would love the glenn reid collection to bid on. the yellow ha/com5181 could you please send me a catalog of all your wonderful articles and motor cars and engines. thankyou god bless america''

george ferreira 941-9248439
5113 far oak circle
sarasota, fl. 34238 thankyou